Contextual Email Marketing: The future of your email program
After a consumer opts into receiving your emails, I assume they’ll be somewhat active. During the initial weeks they’ll open, click, browse your website, and maybe even convert. However, it probably won’t take long for them to lose interest. They’ll delete without pause or filter into a subfolder for a rainy day. They may come back briefly when a compelling event motivates them to find your most recent offer or a reactivation campaign lures them in once again, but the pattern will repeat itself. They’ll get bored and disengage all over again.
Email marketers owe it to their subscribers to do better
In a world full of distractions and other priorities, your customer took the time to sign up, opt in (hopefully), and graciously did not click the spam button after the first few weeks of batch and blasts. They haven’t opted out, yet, so they’re still interested in your brand, but they’re no longer interested in your emails. Now, I’m sure you’re thinking “but my company personalizes our content, we provide engaging experiences, and our customer’s love receiving our emails!”
You could be optimistic or you may actually be right; but the reality is a majority of brands do not attempt basic personalization, let alone add any sort of relevant content to emails. I definitely give credit to the brands that are trying, but most personalization attempts I see are fairly shallow. They [insert name here] to introduce the same content they’re sending to everyone. Those emails never quite feel personalized and sometimes can even be annoying.
Occasionally, I receive a cart abandonment email, and once a year, I get a whole bunch of birthday offers. These types of emails are definitely a move in the right direction. They’re dynamic and leverage personal events or recent interactions to fuel content. Yet, the brands sending these types of emails seem to do so inconsistently. Again, I stay engaged briefly but as they revert back to their regularly scheduled programming, I find myself losing interest.
Drive your email forward by adding context
So how can email marketers maintain consistent engagement? Well, to start, they need to answer the question, “Is the email I’m sending relevant to the individual who is receiving it?” Note one of the most important keywords here: individual. I specifically chose this word over segments. To add context, you need to start by treating your customers like people, not segments. For example, just because someone in your segment is a millennial, doesn’t mean they’ll have the same interests or path to purchase as all of the other millennials on your list.
Once you can identify your customers at the individual level, incorporate recent events, geolocation, date, time, the weather, preferences, recent interactions, or customer lifetime value. Remember all those promotional emails that are being ignored unless it’s a rainy day? Send a targeted email to customers who are based in a geolocation that is experiencing especially gloomy weather. If they’ve recently browsed your website or mobile app, present them with a personal offer and remind them that while they’re stuck inside, it’s the perfect time to buy.
Rome wasn’t built in a day
I know I sound optimistic, but I assure you I am realistic too. I know that contextual email is the future for most email marketers. If you’re still primarily doing classic email campaigns, don’t get overwhelmed with the laundry list of organizational and technical changes that may need to happen to get your program to the top echelon of email marketing. This could be incredibly discouraging. You don’t need to go from classic to contextual overnight.
Start by listing things you could be doing better or the bad habits you think your brand should stop. Then take it one step further. Choose one item from your list that you think you could test on a small segment tomorrow and adjust based on results. If your program is not that agile, start by prioritizing the changes that would need to happen for you to accomplish basic personalization. Here’s a list of ideas to help get your list started:
If you’re doing classic campaigns, without any personalization:
- Identify the data elements you can leverage to implement basic personalization efforts, such as name, gender, birthday, and primary location.
- Segment your list for cross-sell offers based on past purchases.
- Automate remarketing campaigns, such as cart abandonment.
- Set up a customer preference center to enable customers to manage their own experiences.
- Prioritize an end to batch and blasts at your company.
If you’ve achieved basic personalization tactics:
- Coordinate email campaigns with other channels.
- Leverage email to capture customer feedback.
- Enhance email for mobile and ensure you’re using responsive design.
- Use contextual data at time the email is opened—such as geolocation, date, time, preferences, and weather.
- Leverage dynamic content to automatically refresh expiring email offers and maintain relevancy.
Remember, if contextual email marketing was easy to execute, everyone would probably already be doing it. It will likely involve trial, error, and even some failure before you figure it out completely. Just don’t sit around continuing the same old batch and blasts, hoping for better results. As Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”